Saturday, October 15, 2016

Weird Scenes Inside the Goldmine

Although Velvet Goldmine (1998) was directed by Todd Haynes, it is scarcely the Douglas Sirkian melodrama I insisted were his metier. Rather, it is a glittery, decadent story about the rise and fall of Glam Rock.

It is written from the point of view of Christian Bale, a rather beat-down reporter in New York, 1984. He is assigned to do a "Where are they now" on Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). In a flashback we see all the young dudes and dollies heading for his big 1974 show, including Bale and a shadowy figure referred to as Jack Fairy. This is going to be Slade's last show as his alter-ego Maxwell Demon. As he goes on stage and takes the mike, Bale sees that shadowy figure shoot him dead and blow him a kiss.

So right off I'm thinking, it's Eddie and the Cruisers for glam rockers. But no, the whole world finds out that is was just a prank, and Slade slowly fades from the public eye. Bale interviews whoever he can find, each one delivering a long flashback about Slade's early life. Playing the festival in a frock. Meeting crude American thrash-rocker Curt Wild (Ewan McGregor). Losing his wife (Toni Collette) to a life of gay sex, drugs and decadence. Then vanishing.

We also see Bale growing up in small town England, deeply closeted. We see him going to London, spreading his wings, joining the glam rockers and loving it. We don't see how he wound up a New York media drone, but that beautiful time couldn't have lasted forever.

There's also a series of odd bits about Oscar Wilde being a space alien orphan child and a piece of green costume jewelry that has passed from hand to hand - "Everybody stole from Jack Fairy". A lot of the dialog is quotes from Wilde. This touch of surrealism is nice, keeps you from taking it too seriously.

One of the fun things about this movie is the roman a clef feel. Slade is obviously Bowie, but his name references Bryan Ferry and the band Slade. Curt Wild is mostly Iggie Pop and a little Lou Reed, but there is a touch of Kurt Cobain in his name and hair styling. (Plus of course, Kurt Weill.) The kids waiting to see the Maxwell Demon farewell show looked so much like the kids in the Pennebaker documentary that I'm sure it was used as reference. All this with the gayness turned up to 11.

But, you ask, what about the music? The first cut is Brian Eno's "Needle in a Camel's Eye" from Here Come the Warm Jets. That got us going for sure. There's a lot of Eno, Roxy Music, T. Rex, Lou Reed, and the Stooges, original versions or covers. There's even a cut of Andy Pratt, an obscure favorite from our college days - where is he now? The bands have some real heavy hitters, including Thom York and Thurston Moore. There's a preponderance of dramatic ballads, where we might have preferred more up-tempo rockers, but it's not like Bowie didn't ever sing Jacques Brel or anything.

If you have an sparkel of glitter in your blood stream, you should watch this. I was a fan, but Ms. Spenser was an actual glam girl, and she endorses.

No comments: